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The Red River Valley in Boston:
On Law School Teaching


Prof. Michael Rustad

09 Dec 2001

I teach at Suffolk University Law School in downtown Boston.My office overlooks the famous Orpheum Theatre. My new office in SargentHall was the office of my mentor Thomas F. Lambert Jr., the Rhodes Scholarand Nuremberg prosecutor. I frequently teach in the evening division andenjoy the professionals who work as engineers, doctors, teacher and in manyother fields by day and study law by night. There is a neon red light thatshines into my office from the Orpheum Theatre that gives my office a MikeHammeresque touch.

After Thanksgiving and until the New Year, the Boston Commonis decorated with beautiful lights. The Boston Common has a skating rinkthat is always crowded. It may not have the majesty of the Lincoln Centerrink, but it is popular. The period between Thanksgiving and Christmas isa time of great tension for law students as it is the period for final exams.

This year I am teaching courses in sales and leases, Internet Law and tortslaw. I frequently find ways to make references to the Red River Valley inthe course of my lectures. My brother-in-law, Jim Moris, from Pembina, NorthDakota is frquently included in my hypotheticals. Jim became fascinatedwith buffalo while growing up on the banks of the Red River Valley. He oncefound a buffalo skull. Jim's family farm was the site of where the greatherds of buffalo would cross by. Andre Jerome's wife remembers that theground would literally vibrate from thousands of buffalo crossing the plains.Jim studied agriculture at the Whapeton School of Science. He was determinedto raise buffalo and even experimented with beefalo. The one beefalo bornon the Moris farm was Alvin. His father was a buffalo and his mother a Hereford.Alvin had the white face of the Hereford and the body of the buffalo. Alvinhad the mean disposition of his father and proved to be quite dangerous.He once gored Jim's brother Frank who managed to escape without permanentinjuries. I use the example of Alvin to illustrate legal concepts.

At early common law, wild animals that trespassed or causedserious injury were treated as a special category of strict liability. Ifyou kept a wild beast such as a tiger, you had better have a good cage.If a wild animal escaped causing injury or property damage, the owner wasstrictly liable. The burden of persuasion in strict liability requires onlyprove that the animal escaped causing injury. In contrast, there is a differentrule for domestic cattle. The beefalo presents an interesting hypotheticalbecause it is halfway between a wild animal and a domestic animal.

When I discuss Alvin the beefalo, I always pass out a photographof Alvin and his father - - the buffalo. Alvin has become such a legendin Boston that it is reputed that there will soon be a song written abouthim.

I find ways to bring in examples from Humboldt in my classes.My sales and leases class, for example, will always have examples of infectedcrops, disasters, and floods. As a child, I remember a great number of disastersthat occured with crops. I always thought that my name, Rustad, was derivativefrom the rust that often decimated our wheat crops. I find a great numberof examples of risk of loss examples from farm life. My Boston law studentstell me that the examples from the Red River Valley have helped them rememberdifficult concepts. As a child, I never realized that my farm stories wouldbecome standard fodder for my professional life as a law professor. I probablywould not have predicted that I would be preparing for a career as a lawprofessor while growing up on a farm near Humboldt. I think that my boyhoodexperiences prepared me well for my career in teaching.

The work ethic that I learned and the values of honestyand diligence are values I try to instill in my students.

d diligence are values I try to instill in my students.